Junk Mail

To the mailbox at lunchtime to see what the mailperson had left. Not much: the cable bill, something for my bloke from the insurance people, and an envelope from my bank. I opened it, saw it was one of those silly credit card offers, and tossed it in the recycle. But then something made me pull it out and look at it more closely. Good thing, too. Belly laughs are supposed to be good for the cardiovascular system.

Now, I didn't get my own credit card until a couple of years ago, and I went for modesty: nothing flashy, just a plain ordinary bit of plastic with a $1,000 limit, which I almost never get close to. If I can't afford it now, I can't afford it later: that's always been my motto. But here they are offering me (upon approval, of course!) a platinum card with a credit limit of up to $50,000 at a low, low interest rate of 15.5%. I should go for this, they say, because "Every time you open your wallet and pull out a credit card, you make a statement about who you are."


Every time I open up my wallet and pull out my credit card, I make a statement about the fact that my bank trusts me to pay my bills. This says a little bit about my sense of responsibility and my income; it says a great deal more about the bank's desire to make money off my unpaid balance. But this platinum card (they claim) will show all the world how successful and privileged I am. Right. Alternatively, this platinum card could make quite another statement: that I am prepared to get into really serious debt with a 15.5% interest rate, and thereby show the world that I am as dumb as a sack of hammers. Oh--and also that I have a deep-seated need to impress store cashiers.

Once, back in another lifetime. I tended the cash at a fishmarket, a friendly place, if not what you'd call socially impressive. It was funny how some clients would try to impress us, in our plastic aprons and smelly jeans. There was the time a woman rushed in on a busy Saturday afternoon and banged on the counter, saying loudly "You must serve me at once! I'm a doctor's wife!" We'd tell that story and laugh till we cried. I remember people flashing big bills at me, clearly bent on impressing me, and my mental reaction was always that making change for a $100 bill with a $50 float is a serious pain in the keister. No doubt if we'd taken charge cards back then, someone would have been holding out platinum at me, with that special little "aren't you impressed?" smile, and I would have got the inner giggles. Cashiers are much more interested in how much their feet hurt and whether they've got enough $5 bills.

I got to thinking of this and I realized that some things do make a statement about me, and that some of the statements I like very much. Wednesday, in the city to do tax stuff and have lunch with a friend, I found myself making eye contact with a fair number of fellow sidewalk occupants, and they smiled back at me with a little lift in their expressions. You have to know our nearby city to realize that sidewalk smiling is not standard operating procedures. In fact, it clearly makes some people nervous. So I must have a face that's friendly enough to make people feel comfortable smiling at me. This is a statement about myself that I can live with, and it says much more than any credit card could ever do.

I can think of other statements: the condition of my house says that other things matter more to me than neatness; but the sugar bowl is clean, which says that it's not problematically dirty. The condition of my kids says that I've put quite a bit into motherhood. The condition of my wardrobe says that I don't care a whole lot about what I wear, except sometimes. The condition of my hair (usually) means that I've given up trying to manage the impossible. The condition of my finances says that I'm pretty good at living comfortably on not a lot of money. The condition of my soul....

Now, that's the big one, isn't it. I can't really evaluate the condition of my own soul, because I'm too up-close to it; and it's usually difficult to assess the condition of another's soul, because we don't have all the facts. But every now and again you run into a person whose soul-statements are so obvious that they're inescapable: X is brimming with true integral holiness, while Y is incontrovertibly as fake as a bad toupee. They can't help showing what they're really like.

I remember being in a restaurant in Toronto with a whole lot of my favourite fellow Anglicans. We took up one side of the restaurant; the other side was occupied by more customary patrons. They were mostly slim, young, seriously well-dressed; we were mostly not. They had noncommittal handsome young faces; ours were mostly lined and bagged and jowly. They looked sleekly successful; we didn't. And our side was roaring with laughter and love and sheer merriness and the most satisfactory sort of intense and joyful conversation, while their side kept sneaking glances at us, half resentful, half envious. Who was presenting what?

We are least impressive when we're trying to be impressive. It's one of those things like humility; if you try hard to be humble, you won't be. You have to abandon the thing, give it up entirely, forget about it, before it can be truly yours. This is because impressiveness, like humility, has to come out of the soul's authenticity: it has to rise naturally like the scent of a flower, which isn't thinking about what it smells like, not like a perfume you can dab on from a bottle. And like perfumes, the natural stuff is wholesome and the artificial stuff can cause toxic reactions in those around you.

We become respect-worthy not in spite of our failures, our hurts and our shadows, but through the way we handle them. Integrity isn't something we can lay claim to; it's something we have to struggle toward, starting by facing our own failings with honesty: no, I am not perfect; I am most truly in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. We gain authority by giving it up, handing it over to God, giving God permission to be actively at work in our lives. It's that that makes all the difference.

The people who impress me aren't those who talk about being loving, but those who are loving; not those who tell me how wise they are, but those in whom wisdom shines naturally; not those who talk about integrity, but those with the authentic glow. The talk is nice. It's the walk that matters.

I have no right, in and of myself, to lay claim to anyone's respect; I know--oh, I know!--what sort of unholy mess I made with the life and gifts God gave me. But God has made far, far more of me than I could ever have made of myself, more than I could ever have asked or imagined. And the glory of it is that he's not done yet maybe not even hardly started. It will be fascinating for me to get to see what sort of creation I turn into when my Creator declares me finished.

I tossed the credit card offer back into the recycle. Does anyone actually believe this stuff? Probably. There's nothing so sad as a truly willing fool.

For Anne McKee

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 13 Jan 2001
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